Common Core, Obama, educational initiative, teachers union, New York state, New York State United Teachers, Richard Iannuzzi, No Child Left Behind,Jim Stergios, Pioneer Institute
In New York state, the board of the nation’s second-largest state-based teachers union unanimously withdrew its support for the Common Core — President Barack Obama’s signature educational initiative. This comes at a time when Common Core supporters are attempting to trumpet teachers’ support to prove that the standards can succeed nationwide.
“We’ll have to be the first to say it’s failed,” said Richard Iannuzzi, president of New York State United Teachers. Iannuzzi has indicated that other states’ unions may follow suit. “We’ve been in conversations where we’re all saying our members don’t see this going down a path that improves teaching and learning. We’re struggling with how to deal with it.”
The Common Core State Standards Initiative in an educational initiative for K-12 students meant to establish a minimum level of competency in mathematics and English language arts per grade level across the nation. The idea is that — by the time the student graduates from high school — the student will have the skills to enter a two or four-year college program or the workforce without the need of remediation.
At the end of the last school year, New York state failed the reading and mathematics standardized tests by a wide margin. Fewer than a third of all public students passed the test, with many previously-highly praised charter schools receiving the lowest scores. While most states are expected to face similar realizations as their standardized testing roll out in 2014 and 2015, the reality check of New York’s failure — who was previously known for having one of the best educational systems in the U.S. — has been hard to swallow.
For New York state students in third to eighth grade last year, for example, just 5 percent of Rochester’s public school students were proficient in math. Less than 9 percent of Syracuse’s students passed the reading test; 19 percent of all low-income students statewide cleared the language arts test.
This puts the teachers union in a difficult spot. As Common Core testing plays into teacher retention, federal funding for schools and the possibility of schools being taken over by the state, there are but two possible options available. The first option is to admit that the school districts have been evaluating teaching and student performances by too shallow a measure. This would lead to large numbers of teachers being laid off or being forced to submit to retraining. The second option is to blame the test.
The NYSUT is calling for more time to review if the Common Core curriculum the state has been pushing is grade and age appropriate — with kindergartener parents arguing that too much is being expected from their kids, while high school students are not being pushed hard enough toward higher math concepts, such as calculus. The NYSUT is also requesting a three-year moratorium on high-risk consequences for Common Core failures — such as teachers being fired and students being denied the opportunity to graduate — so that the teachers can adequately transition to the new expectations.
Republicans have been critical to the notion of a centralized school curriculum since the introduction of the Common Core as a replacement to No Child Left Behind. Republicans are holding fast to the idea that every state should have the right to determine its own curriculum and standards for success.
Despite these reservations, with the U.S. finishing below-average in math and near-average in science and reading among 15-year-olds, per the Program for International Student Assessment, there is a real and measurable fear that the future workforce will not have the skills need to keep the country competitive with the other industrial and economic powers.
NYSUT’s newly-adopted posture puts it at odd with the national teaching unions, who still support the Common Core –although, with some reservations. 76 percent of the National Education Associations members support the Common Core, but only 26 percent support it wholeheartedly. The other 50 percent gave a tentative approval to the program.
“Were this a small union no one would take notice,” said Jim Stergios, executive director of the Pioneer Institute, a think tank opposed to the Common Core. “But the size and breadth of NYSUT tells even the casual observer that the wheels are coming off Common Core in NY.” The vote, he said, “clearly gives lie to view that teachers support the whole Common Core apparatus. The fact that NYSUT cuts across over a thousand local unions speaks to how widespread opposition has become.”